How volunteering helps others – and youLifestyle
Gerry Gregerson of Bar Harbor, Maine, has been singing with the volunteer hospice choir — Evensong — for 11 years. Evensong performs for people with life-threatening illnesses, who are at the end of their lives and for their loved ones.
"On so many levels, this is the most rewarding service I've ever done," Gregerson says. "Sometimes we sing for patients whose condition really limits their ability to respond, but whose faces and bodies visibly relax with the music. Some folks we sing for are robust in their appreciation, singing along with us and applauding after each song. Other times, a person is in bed, struggling to stay awake, surrounded by loved ones, everyone in the room aware that these are some of the last moments of life they will have with this person. The room is hushed. The singing is soft and soothing. Tears are shed. Hugs are shared. There is no greater privilege than to be invited into such a sacred space.
"Besides the gift of being with the patients and families, the singers have formed a bond of friendship and musical ensemble that grows stronger with each rehearsal," she continues. "Everything about this practice enriches my life."
Like Gregerson, many people find that volunteering is as beneficial to them personally as to the people they serve. Here are five ways volunteering is good for your mind, body and spirit:
- Volunteering is good for your health.
Research-proven benefits to your mental and physical health include increased physical and mental activity for volunteers over age 60, decreased risk of depression, reduced stress levels, decreased pain intensity – and even a longer life expectancy!
- Volunteering helps you meet others and make friends.
As with Gregerson's experience singing in the hospice choir, volunteering can be a great way to connect with others who share your interests and values – sometimes becoming supportive, lifelong friends.
- Volunteering can teach you new skills — or help you share existing skills with others.
Volunteering can help to build skills you may not have an opportunity to build in the workplace — often transferable skills you can put on your resume.
Or in the case of Craig Ellyson of Elkhart, Iowa, volunteering can allow you to share existing skills with others. Since retiring from an insurance career, Ellyson now volunteers for a program that helps seniors make informed choices about Medicare coverage.
"It feels good to save a senior significantly in drug costs by finding the most suitable plan for them," he says. "My insurance degree is not going to waste!"
- Volunteering can make you feel connected to your community.
There's a pride of place that comes from volunteering in your local community, whether it involves serving on a local board or committee, volunteering in a classroom, picking up trash in your neighborhood or helping out at community events.
"I volunteer at local events like plays, concerts, festivals and races," says Julie Williams of Des Moines, Iowa. "I feel like it helps the community by enabling these events to happen, and I learn interesting new things about the community and meet new people. And sometimes I get tangible benefits like a free ticket!"
- Volunteering can bolster your sense of fulfillment, purpose and meaning.
"I see volunteering as an opportunity to honor those who volunteered to help me when I was younger, to provide opportunities I didn't have, share what I know, improve my communication skills, be part of something bigger than myself, and to inspire future volunteers to keep the wheel in motion," says Matt Breitkreutz of Kansas City, Missouri.
Volunteering benefits everyone involved, and many people want to keep volunteering through every phase of their life, including retirement. Planning ahead for a secure retirement can make that happen by helping people have the freedom to choose the retirement lifestyle they want.
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